25 Sep 2012

Final NZ contingent heads to Afghanistan

7:14 pm on 25 September 2012

The final contingent of Defence Force personnel to serve in Afghanistan left Christchurch for a six-month deployment on Tuesday.

New Zealand soldiers have been serving in Afghanistan since 2003, both with the Provincial Reconstruction Team based in Bamyan Province and on operations with the SAS.

The final 140-strong contingent is made up mostly of personnel from the 2nd 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment based at Burnham military camp, south of Christchurch, with others from Linton, near Palmerston North, and Trentham in the Hutt Valley.

The contingent is the 21st rotation to serve in the province, where five New Zealand soldiers were killed in two separate roadside bomb attacks last month.

The Joint Forces Commander, Major General Dave Gawn, says the threat has grown in the 10 years New Zealand troops have been there.

He told the friends and family of departing personnel that, with his own son going, he understands how they feel.

But, he says, insurgents' activities are seasonal and they are likely to leave for Pakistan for the northern winter.

Major General Gawn says local forces are almost ready to take over in the province.

He also says the terrain where New Zealanders will be patrolling is among the most difficult he has ever seen.

Earlier this month the Government confirmed New Zealand troops will be withdrawn from Bamyan by the end of April 2013.

The final contingent includes 24 members of the Theatre Extraction team, which will co-ordinate the withdrawal.

The troops will arrive at their destination on Thursday.